September is finally here and you know what that means…the Bills are tied for the best record in the NFL!
The past few years for the Buffalo Bills have been anything but exciting. After going through a slew of less than average quarterbacks (Ryan Fitzpatrick, J.P. Losman, Alex Van Pelt, Kelly Holcomb), the Bills finally have a rookie quarterback that they can be excited about. The Bills also went out this season and got a rookie head coach, Doug Marrone, fresh off the campus of Syracuse. The Bills also drafted some talented rookie wide receivers in Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods from Texas and USC respectively. With all this change happening in the offseason we can now look forward to Week 1 against the “Evil Empire” that is the New England Patriots.
The number of things Bills fans have to worry about this week is directly related to the number of times I typed the word “rookie” in my previous paragraph. If having a rookie head coach isn’t worrisome enough, that rookie head coach is coaching a rookie quarterback.
On the plus side, E.J. Manuel didn’t look half bad in his two preseason starts. Manuel was able to move the ball efficiently down the field with short accurate throws, throwing for 107 yards and 92 yards in his two games under center. Manuel went down with an injury half way through the first half in his second game against the Vikings and required minor knee surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the preseason, but Manuel was given the starting nod this past week by Marrone.
Missing the last two preseason games and all the practices in between slowed his development a little bit. Manuel is a smart guy, but 2 weeks of live NFL action may not be enough to have a great start. In order for Manuel to be successful this week against the Patriots, the Bills are going to have to give Manuel time to throw the football. Even though he is a very capable runner, he is more of a scrambler like Ben Roethlisberger than a running threat like RGIII. While I prefer a quarterback that scrambles to keep the play alive rather than risking injury, scrambling can also lead to inaccurate throws on the run. If the Bills want any chance this week, Manuel is going to have to limit his mistakes.
Two players that can take some pressure off E.J. are C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. This two-headed running back monster was the high point of an otherwise lowly offense last season. If these two can run the ball effectively it can open up some easy passing lanes for Manuel to throw.
Spiller is especially going to have to step up his game not only this week against the Pats but this season as a whole. In his career, Spiller has never been an every down back, eclipsing 200 carries just once in his career. Spiller had a coming out season last year and I feel he’ll be a focal point of the offense this season.
Fred Jackson has his own set of problems. Jackson has been plagued by injuries for the majority of his career, and has not played a full season since 2010. He can provide not only as a relief for Spiller, but his excellent pass catching ability out of the back field can be a useful check down option.
Now we move to the defensive side of the ball. Tom Brady is one of the league’s best quarterbacks and can shred apart just about any defense. Slowing Brady down this week will start with the front 7. If you remember back to the last two times the Patriots have been in the Super Bowl, the Giants seemed to figure out how to slow Brady down: get pressure on him early and often. Give him time to step up in the pocket and read the defense, and he puts up numbers.
For this to happen, Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus are going to have to have a much better year than they did last year. This tandem was supposed to be one of the best in NFL last year but proved to be a disappointment. They collectively are going to have to play at a Pro Bowl level to make Brady uncomfortable.
The secondary is going to be another area of question. Buffalo’s potential shut-down corner, Stephon Gilmore, will be out for a considerable amount of time due to a broken arm that he suffered during the preseason. Jarius Byrd, the Bills’ other above-average defender was reported by ESPN to be seeking a trade. This leaves a group of young inexperienced defensive backs to do what they can to shut down the Patriots passing game.
Luckily for the Bills, the Patriots wide receivers are also young and inexperienced. The Patriots lost all of Brady’s favorite toys during the offseason for one reason or another, leaving a group of rookie receivers. The Buffalo secondary is going to have to be physical to make these receivers uncomfortable in their first taste of NFL action.
Buffalo definitely has a lot to overcome in the opening weekend. With a lot of young talent it’s up to a rookie head coach to put together a game plan that can kind of hide some of the inexperience by executing an efficient game plan. In the recent past, the Bills have played New England well, even stealing a few wins despite being a significantly less talented team. I can see the Bills doing just that this week and not making it easy for the Pats.
As Chris Berman would say, no one circles the wagons, like the Buffalo Bills.